33 Ways To Reset Your Work Life
Illustration by Mr Harry Haysom
The past year has fundamentally changed the power structure between employee and employer. The diktat that working from home is less productive has been tested. More and more of us have seen it not as a forced pivot but as a chance to re-prioritise, reorganise and to excel, while others are finding that it‘s also easier than ever to start something of their own. Whether you’re WFH, preparing to reenter the office, or you’re somewhere between the two, now is the time to optimise your nine-to-five (and if those are even the hours that you keep).
Carve out a space
“Instead of working from the kitchen table, create a space in your home that is separate from the family and free of distractions,” suggests Mr Chris Dyer, remote working specialist and founder of PeopleG2. “This will enable you to be accessible to the family, but also have a stronger sense of being at work.”
Set a routine – and stick to it
Without a clear separation between work and personal time, you can find yourself burning out if you work from home. “Get a good night’s sleep, wake up at the same time daily, get dressed and ready, and go to work,” suggests personal growth guru Mr Kev Scheepers. “When your workday is done, leave the office space and enjoy your personal or family time.”
Give yourself a break
Working at home can make us feel like we have to be available all the time. “But everyone needs to take short breaks to recharge,” insists Dyer. “Have lunch away from the computer and take short breaks regularly. You might walk the dog, water the plants or run a quick errand.”
Durham University’s Dr Thuy-vy Nguyen, who studies the effects of solitude, thinks the psychological effects of working remotely for extended periods are often overlooked. Find a co-worker you can contact when you’re feeling the need to chat.
“Discuss your WFH needs with your family or roommates,” Dyer says. Communicate your work schedule to the kids especially. Stick a “do not disturb” on the door and if others are sharing a home computer, server or Wi-Fi, decide who takes priority. “Ensure others understand that you need quiet, uninterrupted time to do your work. You may have to flex your own schedule a bit, but be sure to share it with everyone.”
Without the commute at the end of the day, it may be difficult to change your mindset. “But it’s important to stop working [at a strict time],” Dyer says. “There may be times when you’ll need to work later than usual, but once you are done, switch off and enjoy the other aspects of your life.”
Commute from home
“Do some type of movement first thing in the morning. Even if it’s five minutes of light mobility work, a 10-minute walk or a gym workout,” insists Dr Marc Bubbs author of Peak 40: The New Science Of Mid-Life Health For A Leaner, Stronger Body And A Sharper Mind. “Building a routine of ‘moving’ first thing in the morning – before the madness of the day sets in – sets you up for success in the long-term.”
Reset your route
If you are returning to the office, reset your commute and see it as a clear transition between work and non-work time. “Use this time to listen to music or a podcast, try a new reading source or author or even writing and planning your next career move,” says Scheepers.
Work to tomato time
The Pomodoro Method is a tried and tested time-management technique to ease workload and stress. Set a timer for 25 minutes and then take a five-minute break (apps such as Marinara Timer can help). After four 25-minute sessions, take a break of 15 to 30 minutes. Continue these intervals throughout the day.
Stretch the day out
Having a yoga break in your schedule may help you manage your time wisely throughout the day. Scientific studies show that Kundalini yoga is effective in lowering generalised anxiety disorder and more effective than stress education.
Hit the “pub”
Make time to socialise virtually – schedule in a digital coffee break or a Friday online get-together – and where possible get back to the social mix that makes long days at work worthwhile. “Take things at a pace comfortable to you and gradually get back out there,” suggests Mr Lee Chambers, mental wellbeing expert for Anytime Fitness UK and founder of Essentialise. “Steadily getting ourselves back into old routines feels more natural.”
Question your job
Over our lifetimes, we spend more than 90,000 hours at work. So hitting the reset button means giving serious consideration to what we do for a third of our waking hours. “What kind of work makes you feel most alive?” asks Mr Jonathan Fields, specialist in burnout among business leaders and author of SPARKED (HarperCollins Leadership). “Do some soul searching to discover what type of work sparks you and then find a way to bring more of that into your job by having a candid conversation with your boss.”
Take an aptitude test
Career aptitude tests are designed to help you learn more about yourself so you can discover which jobs mesh best with your personality, needs and goals. The MAPP Test can help clarify what you love to do and what you don’t love to do. It also uses the O*Net job list to identify which jobs might be good fits while the MyPlan.com test can help you identify your motivations and what’s really important to you in your career.
Explore all options
The job itself may not be the issue, but its integration with your home life could be. “Investigate the format that best suits you,” Fields says. Flexi-time, a compressed working week, job-sharing or shift work, WFH, staggered or even annualised hours are options progressive employers are putting on the table in order to attract or retain talent.
Sell the idea
If you hit on a flexible working method that suits you, sell the idea to your bosses and co-workers. Develop a business plan based on the benefits your new working practice will bring to the organisation, too. One survey found that 61 per cent of companies increased profit and 83 per cent of companies improved productivity when they introduced flexible working. “Any organisation that refuses to accept the irrefutable proof that hybrid working works is going to be in trouble,” says Mr Justin Small, CEO of Future Strategy Club.
Rewrite your CV
“Employers hiring hybrid working roles will be looking for the ability to self-direct and deliver,” says Small. “Resumes and CVs should really push examples of where candidates have owned outcomes, delivered success, and driven projects themselves.” Ownership and collaboration are now key traits for hybrid teams.
Research shows that 54 per cent of workers worldwide would consider leaving their current job after the pandemic if their employees don’t offer more flexibility. “Line managers need to talk to their bosses about being retrained to enable talent to successfully deliver, rather than dictate how they work and what they should do,” says Small. “Trust is the new currency in building teams that can help organisations work in disrupted and changing times.”
Learn another language
Use of language learning apps spiked during the pandemic as mastering a foreign tongue has been shown to sharpen your cognitive abilities while helping stave off dementia as you age. A University of Chicago study also found that businesspeople make better decisions when weighing problems in a non-native language.
Audit all areas
Use your reset to get the cathartic “high” that comes with a good clear out. Apply a ploy or two from Ms Marie Kondo, the Japanese professional organiser who asks, “Does each item bring you joy?” Be objective – even something that used to bring you joy may no longer serve that purpose. Now’s the time to ditch.
Exit the comfort zone
“It’s true that fortune favours the brave, even in your career,” Fields says. “As scary as it might be to make a drastic move, whether it’s quitting your job to start your own business or moving across the country – or to a new country – for a dream opportunity, don’t be afraid to make those big life-altering changes.”
Build in breaks
Reset your mind and your energy levels during the working day with short, focused breaks. “When we meditate, we signal to the body and brain that we are choosing rest as an active measure, says Mr Michael James Wong, presenter of The Quiet Life podcast and proponent of the Just Breathe app. “We are using our attention with a gentle focus to do less, intentionally.”
Don’t break new habits
Lockdown forced many of us to investigate simpler, less chaotic and often solitary ways of coping with difficult times. “These daily habits may have kept you positive over the past 18 months,” Chambers says. “It’s very easy, when we look at everything we can now do as restrictions ease, that we forget about those small fundamentals like daily walks, eating better, staying active that have been really useful to us to look after our mental wellbeing.”
Redefine your day off
A Harvard Business Review recommendation for restoring your passion for your work is to “call a time-out”. “If you are lacking motivation in your work, do not seek inspiration by working harder or doing more, find it by taking some time away from your work,” says Wong. Remember your life is not a binary process of work, no work. “You are multifaceted with many aspects and interests. It’s not a day off, it’s a just a different day with different things to enjoy.”
Take four steps away from stress
Business leaders need to take time out, too. A recent report in The Economist found that employees look to match the company hierarchy when it comes to working hours. (On average, every hour a leader works after-hours translates to 20 minutes of additional after-hours time spent by those working for them.) “If you want to attract the best talent, you need to instigate a flexible culture from the top down,” Small says. “Start by resisting the temptation to send emails outside of reasonable business hours.”
Know what workers need
“A simple and easy employee survey can tell you a lot about how people are feeling,” says Ms Sheena McDermott, head of leadership and management programmes at Bethe Business. Coupled with a quick look at absence data, you can discover a lot about your company culture and staff with minimal effort. “Locating the pain points is truly the first step before making any cultural or practical decisions.”
Define what constitutes “urgent”
“If you’re shifting to self-employed or more flexible work patterns, it can be tempting to work relentlessly and not allow yourself time to properly rest and recuperate,” says Ms Marieke Flament, CEO of Mettle. “Instead, address the most urgent tasks at the start of your workday, so if you run out of time the items left on the list can wait until the next day.”
Work smart hours
Productivity isn’t about working long hours, it’s about working smart hours. “Look at practical ways to streamline your days,” Small says. Review your diary management, finesse your to-do list making, only going to meetings that are essential. “Start your shift to hybrid working with a trial period – a pilot programme to see what works and what doesn’t.” After the trial run, gather feedback and see what needs to be changed or refined.
Vacation: use it or lose it
American workers left a record number of vacation days on the table last year – 768 million days, up nine per cent from 2017 – according to research from the US Travel Association, Oxford Economics and Ipsos. “Set clear boundaries when taking vacations,” Flament says. Ensure your contact clarifies holidays. “And if you’re working freelance, plan your holidays and time off in advance, as you would if you had a regular job, and stick to it. Your business will benefit from your rested brain.”
Connect with like-minded communities
Running your own business can feel isolating. “Connect with like-minded people and communities via dedicated groups or forums,” says Flament, whose Mettle group uses a private Facebook community group for small businesses and freelancers to share ideas, inspiration, experiences and seek advice from other self-starters.
Don’t let your career define you
If it feels like your career is at odds with who you are as a person, what you stand for and what you’re passionate about, then it really is the right time to change. “We all have the tendency to use our careers to define ourselves,” Flament says. “But, it’s important to remember that your job isn’t who you are – it’s what you do.”
Start with a side hustle
“Join the growing ‘passion economy’ and launch your own small business as a side hustle,” Flament says. It’s predicted that 50 per cent of the UK population will have a side gig by 2030, so you’d be in good company.” Investigate part-time opportunities if your current job sucks a lot of your energy, but you need to maintain an income as you nurture a new venture.”
Get a mentor
Find the cash to buy the help of a business coach. “They can help identify your own skills, strengths and abilities,” says Ms Ros Taylor of RTC Leadership and Coaching. “They’ll assist you in developing strategies to navigate new business ventures and do wonders for your self-confidence.”
Assess your success
Devise a measure to gauge how successful your reset is going. It could be a set pattern for your working day, eg, eight hours of productivity, eight hours sleep and eight hours of “me time”. Regularly check that your new work routine is providing the freedom and flexibility that you are aiming for.